What Are Enzymes and Why Should You Care?

*Flashback to 8th grade science class*

One of the biggest components in digestion are enzymes.

Enzymes are large chains of amino acids that speed up the rate of chemical reactions within the body. They are especially important in metabolism and digestion as they are the only substance that can digest food small enough to pass through the gastrointestinal wall so the body can use it.

You are probably familiar with a lot of them already! Lipases break down fats, proteases breakdown protein, and carbohydrases break down starches and sugars. No matter what we eat, enzymes are there to help us through (sorry about that WHOLE PIZZA last night, gut).


There are three kinds of enzymes

  1. Food enzymes: occur naturally in foods. They basically give you a head start

  2. Digestive enzymes: produced by the body to break food particles apart small enough to be usable

  3. Metabolic enzymes: produced by the body for biochemical reactions (go cells, go!)

Now.. here’s the thing:

Enzymes are deactivated or destroyed at temperatures above 118 to 170 degrees F.

(In reality, it is actually the physical shape of the enzyme that changes with the change of bonds promoted by the increase in energy (heat). This changes that puzzle piece rendering it non-functional.)

All kibble and canned food is cooked at or above this temperature range. Extruded kibble is a whopping 500 degrees!

There are no enzymes in processed cat and dog foods.

This is what made me set on raw feeding.

This processing creates a deficiency for some amino acids AND forces the digestive enzymes to do all the work, putting strain on the pancreas to make essential amino acids and other enzymes. This can lead to inflammation of the pancreas, pancreatitis. Improper diet such as a kibble high in starch already creates a low-grade chronic inflammatory response and poor gut health.

With inhibited ability to properly absorb nutrients through the gut wall, how can one attempt to thrive? To heal?


pH Matters

A meat based diet stimulates chemoreceptors in the stomach to release the gastric juices keeping the stomach environment around 1-2 pH. Digestive enzymes function better within this range meaning you get more nutrients from the food! When a high carbohydrate meal is introduced, these receptors aren’t stimulated and do not produce that acidic environment. The food/acid mix that leaves the stomach is known as chyme, and triggers another response in the small intestine for the flow of pancreatic enzymes continuing the digestive process. This snowball effect is essential in your cats efficient digestion process. Improper pH from the start can impair absorption throughout the whole process!


It is also important to note that not all processing is created equal.

In an effort to combat bacterial contamination, many raw companies have initiated the use of High Pressure Pasteurization (HPP). During this process, high hydrostatic pressure (think, surrounded by a ton of water) is uniformily applied to all sides of the product. The process successfully eliminates pathogenic microbes including Listeria, Salmonella, and E. coli. Depending on the amount of pressure, research has demonstrated that enzymes denature and good bacteria can be destroyed during this process. HPP-adulterated food is essentially sterile; void of natural bacteria essential for a healthy gut microbiome. Your cat has the ability to consume “bad bacteria” without any issues for the most part (count how many times your kitty licks his butt every day). Bacteria such as Salmonella and E. coli already exist within their digestive tracts aiding in digestion. High Pressure Pasteurized food is an adulteration to the naturally occuring enzymes and bacteria present in the food. Contrary to popular belief, unadulterated raw pet food is safer than canned food and kibble when it comes to contamination. More to come on this topic!

It is important to note that HPP is not always the enemy. HPP raw food is a great place to start if you are hesitant about the safety of raw food or your household contains immunocompromised individuals (very young, very old, and the sick). Although, I would not worry about any contamination through feeding a raw diet as long as you are exhibiting safe food handling and sourcing your food from organic, human grade ingredients.


Evidence of an enzyme deficiency include chronic inflammation, indigestion, leaky gut, and inflammatory bowel disease. On a more day to day basis, common signs include digestive upset, gas, diarrhea, bloating, and excess fat or grease in stool. If you have a young animal, you may not notice any change in vitality immediately upon switching to raw. Conversely, elderly animals’ ability to secrete enzymes gradually reduces. Therefore, adding fresh, whole foods into the diet will be extremely beneficial, to the point of immediate improvement.

What are some ways to get me more enzymes?

I’m so glad you asked!

  1. Eat a fresh, raw, whole foods diet!

  2. Add a digestive enzyme supplement, I like this one!

  3. Use non-HPP foods (or rotate between HPP and not HPP!)

  4. Raw Goat’s Milk like this and this

  5. Supplement with raw treats - I have found that these and these work for picky cats!


Gut Queen

There are many ways to increase your babies ability to reap the benefits of their food! Enzymes are sometimes a long forgotton friend. Everyone has the ability to make a difference whether its adding goats milk to kibble, sprinkling on some enzymes, or rotating your brand! Healthy gut, here we come!